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Catalyst Grants Advance Clinical Research into Therapeutics and Immunotherapies


Author: Camille Aglaure

The Center for Genomic Innovation and the College of Pharmacy announce the 2018 recipients of Catalyst Grants to study disease mechanisms and validate new therapeutic targets to treat many diseases, like cancer, leukodystrophy, and leukemia.Catalyst Grants support projects at the University of Utah Health that focus on the early stages of therapeutic development.

“Funding is essential to continue the forward momentum in the development of new therapies for diseases like ovarian cancer and leukemia,” says Randy Peterson, Dean of the College of Pharmacy at U of U Health. “We believe that these catalyst grants will provide the initial support necessary for the critical, early advances and discoveries necessary as researchers craft new drugs and therapies.”

The four funded projects will each receive approximately $50,000 for one year and span an array of topics, from leukodystrophies to leukemia. The 2018 awardees are:

  • Drug Screen for Vanishing White Matter Disease and Leukodystrophies in Zebrafish

Joshua L. Bonkowsky, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Neurology, received a grant to conduct drug screening in zebrafish to identify new compounds that could be potential therapies for Vanishing White Matter Disease, a genetic disease with neurologic devastating symptoms, in humans.

  • Safety and Efficacy of p53-Bad Gene Therapy in an Immune Competent, Syngeneic Orthotopic Metastatic Mouse Ovarian Cancer Model

Carol S. Lim, PhD, professor in Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Margit M. Janát-Amsbury, MD, PhD, adjunct assistant professor in Bioengineering, received a grant to test a new approach to cancer therapy the fusion of p53 to Bad, a protein that can bind to and inactivate other proteins which cause cell death. The treatment has potential for other forms of cancer, in addition to ovarian cancer, making the p53-based gene therapy a viable treatment option with significantly less chance of relapse.

  • Advancing SIRT5 Inhibitor Lead Compounds for Treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Michael W. Deininger, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Hematology, received a grant to evaluate novel therapeutics targets for acute myeloid leukemia patients. In particular, his research will develop compounds to inhibit the SIRT5 gene, which appears to be fundamental in cellular processes like cell division, DNA repair, and cell death.

  • Determine the Safety of CD229-Directed Immunotherapies

Djordje Atanackovic, MD, associate professor in Internal Medicine, received a grant to use CD229-specific cells paired with monoclonal antibodies to define new treatments for multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells. “If successful, this work will be essential in advancing CD229-specific therapies for patients,” says Atanackovic.

The Center for Genomic Innovation promotes the discovery of the genetic causes of human disease and the translation of these discoveries into accurate diagnoses, targeted treatments, prevention strategies and even cures.